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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Beer Week: Steven Shomler's Portland Beer Stories

Portland Beer Stories; Behind the Scenes with the City's Craft Brewers
Stephen Shomler
American Palate, 170 pages, $20
  • What is it? A collection of stories about the people who work in Portland's beer world
  • Who's it For? Portlanders
  • Reviewer Disclosure. I wrote the foreword. I know Steven a bit, but mainly in the way I know many people whom I see around town at pubs and fests.
  • Scope. Portland, Oregon
The Review

Portland Beer Stories is something of a curious book. It contains a fairly large number of vignettes about brewers (home- and pro), publicans, business owners, and writers (a few cider makers even make the list). It's actually something like a collection of blog posts, though author Steven Shomler is not a blogger. (He does, however harness our local blogging talent for interstitial "writer perspectives" pieces, giving it an even more bloggy feel.) That is to say, there's no through-line connecting these stories; their organizing principle is the city itself. Collectively, the vignettes manage to convey the kind of variety you find here in our rich little ecosystem, from the owner of one of the country's oldest homebrew shops to the director of the Oregon Brewers Guild to Rob and Kurt Widmer.

But the structure also limits the appeal of book to folks beyond our borders. For those of us who live and drink here, it adds wonderful texture to the world we see superficially. I've been shopping at FH Steinbart's since the 1990s, and it was cool to read about John DeBenedetti's family business. Portland's a small town, and if you've been to more than five beer events, you're likely to have seen certain faces appear again and again. Some of them people this book, like homebrewers Lee Hedgmon and Rodney Kibzey. I doubt there's very many people who don't know beer goddess Lisa Morrison, but there she is. Beer writer John Foyston, check. Owners of  and familiar faces at Saraveza (Sarah Pederson) and BeerMongers (Sean Campbell)?--yup. 

For Portlanders, it's a pleasure to read the stories of these folks, but what if you live in Cleveland? I dunno. If this were called Munich beer stories and was peopled by local beery Munichers, I spose I'd actually be pretty interested. My guess, though, is that this is really a book for, by, and about Portlanders. You'll have to decide if that applies to you or not.

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